A local volleyball player is representing Western New York well at the Summer Olympics in Rio. But as Time Warner Cable News Reporter Rochelle Alleyne shares, Matt Anderson went through personal loss before making it this far.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- To a room packed with hope, it's clear that Olympian Matt Anderson of West Seneca is a hometown favorite.
Friends, family -- young and old.--.gathered at a restaurant in Orchard Park to cheer him on Sunday afternoon, as he lead the U.S. Men's Volleyball Team in their first match of the 2016 Olympics.
They reminisced about the good times, and the not so good times.
"We watched this journey that he started as a sophomore in high school. We followed him to Penn State and we would go down in these caravans to watch him play down there and have an absolute ball. And then when it came that it went pro, we followed him every moment,” said Patrice Ferraro, Anderson’s aunt.
"His father used to go to all the games, make the drive. He was the one that used to yell 'We are!' and everybody'd yell 'Penn State,'" said Russ Fenton, an Anderson family friend.
"We lost, it was my brother, his father was my brother and it was a terrible, terrible thing to go through. It's still affecting all of us every day. I wish he was here, he'd be so proud,” said Debbie and Sara Reed, Anderson’s aunt and cousin.
"Our family looks at, if it hurt a lot, it's because you loved a lot,” Ferraro said.
Anderson lost his father in 2010, and four years later, his cousin also passed away. The grief led Anderson to take a break from the sport in 2014. But his family says he came back better than ever.
"I really think that he needed that time, I really think that it improved everything,” Reed said.
They say these days Anderson is focusing on the game and continues to help spread awareness about autism through his organization “Spiking For Autism” -- a cause that his family says is personal.
“With our great nephew Tristin, to see him find that connection that they have together and to watch it build, that he can say to the world like ‘This is the place that needs our help and needs our understanding.’ It’s been amazing,” Ferraro said.
The group raises money that is used to provide autism services to students in Clarence New York.